The Tragically Hip entertain House of Blues

A review of The Tragically Hip at the House of Blues on May 9, 2009

, Staff Writer

For over twenty-five years Canadian rock outfit The Tragically Hip have been producing consistent pop tunes. In fact, of their twelve studio albums, eight of them have debuted at number one on the Canadian charts. The Hip recently dropped in on the House of Blues in support of their most recent album, We Are The Same. Those in attendance were treated to a marathon two-set performance spanning twenty-five songs from across the band’s catalog.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that The Hip simply want to be on stage: lead singer Gordon Downie doesn’t move much in terms of actual space, but the small area that he sticks to gets worked pretty well. He gestures and sways, leaning the microphone left and right, raising his arms and legs sharply in the air with Johnny Fay’s hard downbeats. The show kicked off with “The Last Recluse”, off the new album, beginning acoustically and steadily working to a straight rocking beat reminiscent of REM at points. They then immediately jumped back ten years to “Poets”, in which Downie’s vocals undeniably draw comparisons to Michael Stipe’s, nasal, almost whiny, with a tight vibrato.

The Hip demonstrated that they really know how to construct a proper setlist: as the first set began to wind down, the band made no attempts to force energy back into things, giving the slower duo of “Grace, Too” and continuing downwards with “Now The Struggle Has A Name”, as Downie wiped sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. The first set closed out with “Springtime In Vienna”, which seemed a little mid-level for a closer, though it’s understandable that they would want to save the bombast for the very ending.

The collection of fans at the House was varied: teenagers new to the band peppered the crowd, older folks who have been with the group since the 80s were in abundance, and a number of Canadian expats talked about seeing them perform at home in hockey rinks (really). An air of anticipation worked its way through the audience during a set break that felt longer than it probably was, and as the lights dimmed the audience erupted into excited applause.

The second set began with “Toronto #4”, with all members of the band but Downie sitting down and playing acoustic instruments. It seems that generally bands kick the energy up to begin a second set, so it was a nice change of pace to see The Hip ease the audience back into the music with a nice acoustic tune, and it was very well-received by the fans, who sang along happily, swaying back and forth. The band kept things acoustic with “Fiddler’s Green”, released way back in 1991. One of the opening lyrics, “For a girl I know, it’s Mothers’ Day”, got a cheer from the crowd, as would be expected on this given weekend. The song had a very pleasant country twang to it, and guitarist Rob Baker laid down a counterpoint half-solo-half-melody against Paul Langlois’ acoustic strumming.

Things picked back up again with “My Music At Work”, a resounding guitar providing the pad on which the rest of the song drove forward. The set continued in this fashion, a bit more rock and roll than the first. They closed it out with “New Orleans Is Sinking”, which was a little creepy, considering it was written 1989. Appropriately a blues, “New Orleans” was a great way to close the show, an old tune familiar to fans and enjoyable for newcomers. They came back for an encore of “Frozen In My Tracks”, finally ending a lengthy evening with “Fifty-Mission Cap”, a song about Maple Leafs player Bill Barilko, who mysteriously disappeared in 1951 after the Leafs had won the cup, something that didn’t happen again until 1962 when he was found again.

For a band who has been around for as long as The Tragically Hip have been, it’s not a surprise that they can do what they do on stage so easily. Downie loves to work the crowd, eliciting claps and cheers all the time, the rest of the group happily playing with one another. Though road-worn Hip fans say their prime has since passed, from a fairly inexperienced standpoint, they sound just like they did during the 90s, which you can’t really fault them for. At this point, for The Tragically Hip, it’s probably just a matter of continuing to fine-tune a winning formula.

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